from the Independent May 1999
SCOTTY IRVING PERFORMS FOR THE GLORY OF GOD, BUT IT'S OK IF YOU JUST LIKE THE MUSIC.
BY KAREN A. MANN
Scotty Irving a Christian rocker. You can call him a Christian (he was
born again at age 17), and you can call him a rocker (for nine years he
was instrumental in defining the jazz-metal percussion sound of Greensboro's
Geezer Lake), but the two words together define a musical style that Irving
has more than a few problems with.
"1 don't mean to be cruel, but that genre as a rule has not done a great deal for me," he says, noting that the Christian church's longtime tendency to "borrow" from other cultures and religions seems to have carried over into contemporary Christian rock.
"Most of the problems that I have with it involve the infiltration of a secular band's audience, if you will. Their basic goal, the Christian groups, seems to be, 'If we can play something similar to what this other band is playing, perhaps their audience will be interested in us.' And I'm like, 'Well perhaps their audience is a little less likely to pay attention to you because you're a clever copy.'"
Not only has Christian rock "not done a great deal" for him aesthetically, it hasn't done a great deal for him career-wise. Recently, while trying to hustle up gigs for his latest project, the one-man percussion extravaganza Clang Quartet, he called a Christian club where the booking agent was perplexed about his motives. After peppering Irving with questions about whether he was a recovering drug addict or alcoholic (the answer is "no" to both), the agent finally asked what Irving's testimony was.
"I said, 'My testimony is that I love Jesus Christ and I want to play a show, what's the problem?'" He says, the problem was that his testimony wasn't "graphic enough" for the club. "In other words," he says, "I haven't gone through some turmoil, so I can't possibly come in and do anything that's worthwhile for anyone to see."
Perhaps it's best that the club's audience didn't experience Clang Quartet, which is actually a performance-art piece based on the life of Christ. Irving is affable and gentlemanly with a manic, Benigni-like sense of humor, but put him on stage and he turns into a snarling, raging beast-part John Bonham and part John the Baptist. He'sscary enough behind a drum kit, from which his strength and Swiss-clock precision punctuated Geezer Lake and now propel Greensboro funk-metallists Elvis X. With Clang Quartet he's completely unleashed, solo on a stage littered with such things as saws, sheet metal, broken cymbals, sticks and crutches (the May issue of Modern Drummer praised the "unusual instrumentation" on his recent demo tape). He bangs and clangs and yells, jumping this way and that, yet somehow manages to create "music" that's as compelling to hear as it is to watch. Just when you think Irving can't possibly get any more frenzied, he dons a hockey mask and starts using himself as a drum.
"You and I are from a generation that looks at a hockey mask and thinks one thing -- Jason Voorhees," he says, laughing. Irving, it turns out, is quite the splatter-film buff, and he integrated the mask into his routine knowing full well that people's first impressions would be of Friday the l3th. But far from being diabolical, his intentions for the mask are very spirituaL For him the mask symbolizes the Biblical passage "put ye on the armor of God."
"There's no back to the mask. The idea is that you have to go face-forward into what you're afraid of because if you turn around, it opens up all the places where you can be wounded," he says.
Irving accepts that the deeper symbolism of the mask, indeed of the whole piece, will be lost on much of his audience.
"People are like, 'Do you really expect people to pick up on this?' I say, 'Not if they don't ask me.'"
"A lot of times people will argue. 'The message is not strung enough. The message is not strong enough.' I say, with all due respect, 'You're using music as your medum. Perhaps what you should do is preach.' From a musical point of view I've seen a lot of sacrificing of the music, and the message being focused on a little too much, leaving tao intagin.'tion for whoever may be participating."
The last thing Irving wants is to leave no room for his audience to think. Doing so, he believes, kills the music and the message. Describing most Christian rock, he says, "if you take away the vocals.... " He makes snoring noises. "I just can't handle that."
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